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Soledad O’Brien to Grads: Don’t Take Anyone’s Advice

Written By : Warner Todd Huston
June 2, 2013

Former CNN on-air anchor Soledad O’Brien was chosen by students to deliver Harvard’s 2013 Class Day speech–an address delivered to seniors the day before graduation. O’Brien had two important bits of wisdom to pass on to the graduates: “Most people are idiots” and “don’t take anyone’s advice.”

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O’Brien said that the “idiots” advice was passed on to her from her own Cuban-born mother. The former CNNer, who was fired by the cable network late in February, said that with time she found her mother was right, most people are idiots because, “instead of building you up, they will tell you why you will fail.”

Following that line of thought, O’Brien then went on to further build graduate’s self-esteem saying that they should follow their “hearts” instead of taking advice from others.

Harvard Magazine reports that O’Brien told the audience gathered in Tercentenary Theatre for the Class Day ceremony, “Do not listen to others people’s take on the life you should lead.”

“By not listening, you can figure out what your heart is telling you to do,” O’Brien continued.

Despite that she was speaking at an institution with one of the highest reputations in the nation for intellectual achievement, O’Brien repeatedly returned to her “lead with your heart” theme. Invoking the recent book Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg, O’Brien told the class, “Lean in to invest your heart and your soul in ideas or people maybe others don’t care for. Leaning back when you are young is just another word for cynicism.”

Also in her address, O’Brien returned to her advice not to take advice.

“Not taking advice means you will break those boundaries–those walls that exist that make us feel like we are different from other people we meet. Remove people from your life who make you feel bad about who you are and what you want to be…Find greatness and seek out goodness in other people,” she said.

Quixotically, even as she admonished the class to ignore the hard earned experience that others might impart to them through helpful advice and that they simplistically “follow their hearts,” O’Brien filled her address with her own advice on what the class should do with their lives.

The former CNN talent told the class that in her life as a journalist she learned that bad things happen to people and that these bad things will continue to happen unless people step up to put a stop to it.

“People can be mean and unfair, but more–far, far more–people are good and generous and helpful and hopeful. That means you are going to have to lead with an open heart. And it also means that that little heart is going to get stomped on a few more times than you would like.”

Note here that she is essentially admitting that her “journalism” career has been one of the activist, not the reporter.

Interestingly, radio talk show host Dennis Prager has discussed this “follow your heart” idea several times on his show and has even developed an axiom of sorts about it. Prager eschews the idea that one’s “heart” should be a guide to one’s actions and has said, that people shouldn’t merely follow their hearts but should temper their passions with their intellect. Someone whose motto is “follow your heart,” Prager has noted, is usually leading a miserable life because rarely is that airy desire successfully achieved.

Prager also finds it infuriating that America’s youth would be so arrogant as to imagine that they don’t need the advice of people who have lived, loved, and learned for decades ahead of them.

For Prager, “follow your heart” is bad advice.

Students themselves are also given the honor of addressing their class on Class Day by submitting to an audition to win one of the speaking slots. This year four seniors won that honor.

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